What do the new Gillette commercial and This is Us have in common?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 16th, 2019.

Yesterday I woke up to flurry of texts and emails that read, “Did you see it?!” These messages were followed by a link to an ad for, you guessed it, Gillette. I clicked. I watched, and I immediately teared up. I really did. Weird, I know. I mean, it’s only a corporate commercial, right? But for the record, whenever I watch an episode of This is Us, which I happened to do yesterday as well, I require a whole box of tissues. The reason I cry watching This is Us is often for the same reason that I teared up watching the Gillette ad. They are both displaying a fresh take on masculinity, and I love it.

Before we continue, take a moment to go and watch the Gillette ad. It’s less than two minutes long. I’ll wait. Now, take a moment to think how you feel about it. Honor that feeling. Now, ask yourself why you feel what you do. If you’re like me, and you loved it, perhaps it was because it was inspiring to hear male voices challenging the behaviors associated with toxic masculinity. Better yet, it put forth examples of what healthy masculinity looks like.

However, maybe you didn’t like the ad, and if you fall into this camp you are certainly not alone. A simple scroll through google news this morning include lots of headlines that read “anti-men”,”backlash”, and “boycott.” In addition, some public figures have denounced the brand, including professional troll Piers Morgan, who publicly declared that this ad is part of a war on masculinity. As of this writing the ad has over twice as many dislikes on YouTube in comparison to likes, so clearly it has touched a nerve. If it provoked a negative reaction, I invite you to share the reasons why below because I’m somewhat baffled as to why an ad urging men to abandon toxic behaviors and replace them with more positive ones is controversial. I did read through many of the negative comments on Youtube but struggled to find any that were either thoughtful, or helpful, in terms of articulating the objections. 

In a fortuitous twist of timing, this ad comes on the heels of the American Psychology Association’s release of their first ever report on the harmful effects of toxic masculinity. Titled the APA Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Men and Boys, this report was 13 years in the making and drew on over 40 years of research. The conclusion? Toxic masculinity is killing men. Literally. The report outlines how traditional masculinity, which is marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression, is psychologically harming men to detrimental degrees. In the US, men commit 90% of homicides and represent 77% of the victims of homicide, including 85% of the victims of gun violence. Men are the group most likely to become the victims of violent crimes in general, and suicide rates among men are three times higher than that of women. Overall, men have a lower life expectancy than women, and this is true in every country in the world.

The data clearly shows that toxic masculinity is exactly that: toxic. However, once again, judging from the reactions online, it’s clear that a lot of people have missed that point. The goal here is not to take away men’s masculinity. The goal is to challenge men to recognize the toxic aspects and arrive at a better expression of masculinity. You know, one that isn’t literally killing them. That being said, we all know that change doesn’t happen overnight, so I can only hope that enough men are inspired by this ad, and indeed by all the conversations taking place in this new #MeToo era.

Because it is January, the Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner, and while I was watching the Gillette ad, I was reminded of being at the premier of The Mask You Live in 2015. This landmark film by the accomplished film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.” I cannot recommend this film more, so find out how to see it here.

While it is easy to get discouraged by the outrage the Gillette ad provoked, I find solace in the fact that popular culture seems to be making a positive shift. Last week, the New York Times profiled numerous musicians who are racking up hit albums and critical acclaim, all while specifically targeting toxic masculinity in their music. Earlier this month, the most lucrative franchise in Hollywood released a trailer for a superhero movie that featured zero action shots. Instead, it focused on the depression and grief of its overwhelmingly male cast, including a poignant shot of Captain America crying. And week after week, hit television shows, like This is Us, feature male characters who shy away from the stifling bonds of traditional masculinity. As Barbara Annis from Gender Intelligence Group notes in response to the ad, “We are entering a powerful paradigm shift, and I invite men and women to truly embrace these messages. I understand the inclination to react negatively when it lands as generalizing men or stereotyping male masculinity, but there are some beautiful messages in this ad that can inspire people to action. Think of this: women and girls all over the world have been hungering for men to engage and take action, and any boy who has been bullied will feel a sense of relief that there are men in the world ready to notice and take action. The critical approach is for us to move away from blame to a new kind of understanding.”

At the end of the day, Gillette knew this ad would provoke controversy, but so far they are not backing down. They released a statement saying that going forward they will be reviewing all public facing content to ensure that they “fully reflect the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modeling.” Their website states that “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” They’re also putting their money where their mouth is by donating $3 million over the next year to nonprofits “designed to help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best'”, with the first recipient being the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Personally, I applaud this initiative, and I hope it paves the way for more corporations to examine the content and ideals their advertising is putting out into the world. I hope there is more media on the horizon, from every medium, that portrays men as awesome, complex, loving, kind, and emotionally vulnerable human beings. I think we all want to live in a world where treating each other with love, kindness, and respect is the new norm. 

Below please find some resources focused on healthy masculinity. 

Non-profit organizations

A Call to Men – is a violence prevention organization and respected leader on issues of manhood, male socialization and its intersection with violence, and preventing violence against all women and girls.

MenEngage Alliance – made up of dozens of countries, alliance members work collectively and individually toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice to achieve a world in which all can enjoy healthy, fulfilling and equitable relationships and their full potential.

Next Gen Men –  a nonprofit organization focused on building better men through youth and peer engagement, education, and empowerment.

Promundo – Center for Masculinity and Gender Equality – is a global leader in promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.

The Center for Men and Masculinities – The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, established at Stony Brook University (SUNY) in 2013, is dedicated to engaged interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities, and gender. Our mission is to bring together researchers, practitioners, and activists in conversation and collaboration to develop and enhance projects focusing on boys and men. This collaboration will generate and disseminate research that redefines gender relations to foster greater social justice.


The Future of Men by Jack Myers

Guyland: The Perlious World Where Boys Become Men and Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era by Michael Kimmel

The Man They Wanted Me To Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of our Own Making by Jared Yates Sexton (April 2019)

TED Talks

A Call to Men – Tony Porter

Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone – Men Included – Michael Kimmel

Why I’m Done Trying to be ‘Man Enough’ – Justin Baldoni

What Are Your Resolutions For 2019? Here Are My Top Two.

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 1st, 2019.

It’s that time of year again. Yesterday the calendar came to a close on 2018, and today the new year begins. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the tradition of new year’s resolutions. I love taking the time to reflect on the year in terms of goals achieved. I actually make a list in my journal every year, which is a wonderful thing to have because trust me, when you are as old as I am the years start to run together. I also love that January1st offers a clear date for a fresh start on the goals that may not have been realized. Now the hate part. When I see the same things creep back onto my list year after year, it can make me feel like, well, a bit of a loser. That being said, I do try to reflect on why certain behaviors, or lack there of, tend to repeat themselves, and all we can ever do is try to do better in the coming year.

This year my list is taking on a different tone and substance. There were a lot of changes in my life over these past 12 months, with the biggest change for me happening in September. After eight years of being All In for building Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls, I retired. Not only did I completely stop doing any of the day to day work of WMM, including member recruitment and fundraising, but I also left the board. That was hard, and weird, and I wrote way too much about it here. Now, with a few months past that landmark moment for me, I have a lot of learnings around it, but that is not what this article is about. However, I will say that my biggest take-away has been that the best way to let go is to just let go. You will never be able to land somewhere new if you are busy clinging to the old.

The other big life change for me was that my youngest child graduated from high school in June. She is currently in the middle of a gap year before going off to college in the fall of 2019, and I decided to take a gap year of sorts alongside her. I have traveled like a maniac this whole fall, with trips to places I have never visited before such as Ireland, Scotland, and Kenya. Though the travel will continue in 2019, I am also feeling a huge need to think about what is next for me professionally, and therefore many of my resolutions for this next year are oriented towards that objective. But before I jump into my list and invite you to share your top resolutions, where did this whole idea come from?

If you can believe it, setting new year’s resolutions is a tradition that dates back to Julius Caesar. In 46BC he decreed that January 1st would mark the start of a new calendar year, and he invited his subjects to use this changeover to reflect on how they could be better citizens in the year to come. Pretty cool, right? Over 2,000 years later, people all over the world still make new year’s resolutions, but research shows that only 46% of people manage to keep to their resolutions after just six months. Only 12% make it the full year. Some of the reasons behind this failure rate is a lack of planning, spur of the moment decisions made after three glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and/or not setting specific achievable goals. Social scientists also recommend keeping to just one or two resolutions in order to not dilute your motivation, and to avoid repeating past resolutions that have already proved to be frustrating.

So with that in mind, I will (partially) take the wonderful advice of those who know best and share my top two resolutions. I’m making them new ones, and I invite you to do the same. Social scientists also say that you are more likely to feel accountable for a behavior change if you write it down down and share it with others, so please share!

Number One

Practice daily meditation. This may sound like a simple task, but have you ever tried to focus on one thought, idea, or mantra for a sustained period of time? It is shockingly difficult to do, especially considering that in today’s digital age our brains have become accustomed to being bombarded with stimuli every waking minute of the day. However, recent research has shown that practicing daily meditation yields enormous benefits, including increased attention spans and concentration skills, decreased stress levels, and higher capacities for empathy. Even more amazing, studies have shown that meditation can actually physically improve our brains by helping to strengthen the connection between brain cells. Scientists have observed that meditation can lead to our brains being able to process information faster and more efficiently, make better decisions, and even help decrease sensitivity to pain. A good summary of this research can be found here. It’s also pretty telling that most incredibly successful people report practicing meditation, and so in light of all this, not to mention the fact that it costs nothing monetarily, why wouldn’t you at least give it try? For years I have been saying that I will start doing this one day, and now today is the day. Join me.

Number Two

Oh this is so hard. I really have 10 more, so trying to pick just one to share here is tough. However, I’m going to go with the one that keeps creeping to the top of my mind even though it is going to seem a little hokey.

Practice kindness. As much as you can, in every situation, practice kindness. I spent some time, just know, scrolling though definitions in an attempt to be super clear about what I mean, and as a result of this I actually changed the words from “be kind” to “practice kindness”. Similar to the idea above regarding meditation, to practice something is about developing it into a habit. I really want to be a person who naturally shows up in a way that is friendly, generous, and considerate. Think about how many interactions you have with others in a given day. This can be from the person you buy coffee from on the way to work, to your co-workers and clients, your online social engagements, as well as your time with family and friends. What if our default setting was to always show up with kindness, even in the most challenging of situations where strong action was required? To act with kindness is not to say you don’t let someone go if they are not doing their job, or that you don’t ask for proper service. It just means you do so in a way that is respectful. Our world is fraught with negativity, anger, and the normalization of aggressive interpersonal behavior. Enough. This new year I invite you, as I am inviting myself, to always try to show up with consideration, with friendliness, and with generosity. Practice kindness.

Happy New Year. Wishing you and yours the very best for 2019.

Happy 150th Goldman Sachs and A Call to Collective Action

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 15th, 2018.

In 1988 I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Finance. I was fortunate enough to have multiple job offers waiting for me upon graduation, but I quickly narrowed it down to just two. The first was a permanent, full time position with an awesome title and a great starter pay package in my home country at the Bank of Canada. The second option was Goldman Sachs in New York City. Now, you may think my choice would be a no-brainer. Goldman. However, they were only offering me a two year position as an analyst, and for less money. Additionally, there was no guarantee of anything after the two years. I was also more than a little intimidated after the grueling rounds of interviews and a full out meet and greet with the other new graduates from schools like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and more who would be part of the incoming analyst class. Now, I realize that this wasn’t exactly the world-is-going-to-end-if-I-make-the-wrong-choice situation, as both were highly privileged options, but at the time I was 24, just starting out in my professional life, and it was in fact a huge decision for me at the time. The safe and sensible choice was to stay home in Canada with the better title and more money, so obviously I packed my bags and moved to New York City. It ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s been 30 years since I made that fateful decision, and let me tell you, a lot has happened in those 30 years. At Goldman, I moved from my initial analyst position into trading mortgage-backed securities, ultimately rising to become the first female trader and youngest woman to ever make partner at Goldman Sachs in 1996. I later transitioned into the executive suite in 2000, helping to manage the careers of the firm’s Managing Directors, before finally retiring from Goldman in 2002 after 14 years at the firm. Even though I’ve now spent more time away from Goldman than working for Goldman, it sometimes feels like just yesterday that I would go to work every day at 85 Broad Street, and there are a lot of great memories at that address. Goldman was where I found myself professionally. It was where I developed my passion for women’s leadership and gender equality. It was where I met some of my most dearest, lifelong friends. It was where I met my incredible husband, with whom I now have two beautiful children. And because I was a partner when the firm went public, I am now free to do full-time philanthropic work focussing on gender equity and inclusion. I have so much for which I am incredibly grateful.

This is why it was with much excitement that I RSVP’d YES to attending the annual retired partners dinner and the 150th Anniversary celebration of the firm that was held Wednesday night in New York City. As I read through the list of over 360 former partners attending, it truly was a walk down memory lane. There were many who were the leaders who supported me when I was a scrappy young trader, such as John Thain and Jon Corzine, as well as so many with whom I worked alongside. However, what gave me the most joy was reading over the names of the many individuals who I helped to hire, train, and champion for on their journey to become partner.

As professionals we interact constantly with our coworkers. Likely all day, every day. We need advice and support, as well as give it in return, and I always tried to do both at Goldman with an open, generous, and kind heart. That said, as I was reminded last night, I also, occasionally, got into my kick-ass-and-take-names mode. In a good way I was told. Today, as a much older (I mean seasoned) person, I can see so much of what I could have done differently or better, but it is a fact of life that we cannot change the past. The future, however, is something that we can shape from our reflections and learnings. I am trying to do just that.

For those of you who many not be familiar with the history of Goldman Sachs, left me share a brief summary. Goldman Sachs was founded by Marcus Goldman, a German investment banker who immigrated to the US in 1848. Originally settling in Philadelphia, Goldman moved to New York City in 1869, where in a little office in downtown Manhattan he started Marcus Goldman & Co. In 1882, Goldman’s son-in-law Samuel Sachs joined the business, and in 1885, the firm changed its name to its present day moniker, Goldman Sachs & Co. Since then, Goldman Sachs has grown into one of the most respected and prestigious financial firms on Wall Street, not to mention one of the largest with over $32 billion in revenue last year. Of course, the firm has been far from perfect, and it has found itself at the center of more than a couple of firestorms throughout its history, many of which I have written about. However, that is not for this story. This story is about an institution that has grown and evolved and adapted into a world class financial institution, and it is one that has increasingly focused on providing innovative financial solutions to some of our world’s biggest problems.

Of special interest to me is that for years Goldman has been one of the leaders in publishing research on the economic power of women. They were also one of the first to launch a major philanthropic initiative focussed on women called 10,000 Women, which has since evolved to include an amazing online education platform for women entrepreneurs. (please check it out!) There are more than a few Goldman Sachs reports that are included in my 500 Top Reports on women and girls, and a new version of this list will be coming out in 2019. Included on that updated list will be this one, Closing the Gender Gaps: Advancing Women in Corporate America, in which “the authors focus on some of the factors affecting women as they progress through their careers, offering strategies companies can use to level the playing field. These include helping women re-enter the workforce or “upshift” their careers, carefully reviewing compensation data, and adding women to companies’ boards.”

While I do praise Goldman’s research, I also invite them, as well as all other major financial institutions, to not only write about the interventions, but to make bold commitments to fully enact them.

It was almost a decade ago, when my head and heart was still super engaged around the issue of women in finance, that I co-created a report titled Women in Fund Management: A Road-Map to Critical Mass and Why It Matters. This report addressed the problem around the lack of women in leadership roles, and more importantly what could be done about it. Nearly ten years later there is no lack of strategies or female talent to solve this problem. What is lacking across the industry is the commitment to these solutions, and that starts at the very top of any organization in order to truly embrace the goals of equity and inclusion. Further, because of the potential backlash around the #MeToo Movement, as powerfully outlined by Max Abelson in his recent article titled, “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo: Avoid Women At All Cost”, the potential cost of proceeding in a business as usual kind of way could be very high. Studies continue to suggest that not only is the representation of women in leadership roles not improving, but it may be moving backwards.

The challenges around engaging men, powerful men, around diversity initiatives have always been numerous. I know first hand. Almost 20 years ago I sat in a room with many of the partners who attended Wednesday’s dinner talking about how to improve the make-up of the firm. We had just completed a year long, very big consulting project that included surveys, employee interviews, and more. The results were presented suggesting that Goldman had a long way to go to actually create the meritocratic culture that it espoused, but as we broke out into focus groups to discuss these findings it became clear, to me, that the deep changes that needed to happen would not. Why? The reasons are long, many of which I addressed in my TED Women talk in 2012, but at the core was a belief amongst many that nothing was broken, and thus there was nothing to fix. Goldman was a meritocracy where the best and the brightest rose to the top and were rewarded, and all of “this”, “this diversity stuff”, was thus in direct contradiction to that fundamental belief. As I have learned over the past 15 years of working in the world of social change, behaviors, generally speaking, follow beliefs, and in order to have long lasting change you have to first change the belief systems that result in certain behaviors. That in turn then creates certain outcomes.

So it’s time for something new, something radically new, and I would like to offer a suggestion. An industry wide, joint commitment to creating an inclusive financial sector. It’s time, and what a dream it would be to have Goldman Sachs lead the way.

What might this look like? I know, and I don’t know. The “I know” part says adopt the many principles deeply thought out and articulated in this 2009 report, and the countless other reports that have been thoughtfully written. Again, you can find 500 of them here! But that is not a practical answer. It’s not enough to know what to do. What is needed is an act of commitment, and a structure for accountability, to make it happen. My suggestion is to adopt a Collective Impact (CI) framework. In the non-profit world CI is an organizing framework that has become well-known and broadly adopted to help solve complex social problems. It is particularly used in spaces where there is not one actor that can solve the problem. “CI brings people together, in a structured way, to create social change.” For so long the business world has sought to bring solutions to problems residing in the non-profit or social sphere, and it’s time to reverse the direction of knowledge and expertise. Businesses have problems too, big problems, and creating an inclusive work environment is one of them.

Years ago I gave a talk to some women at Goldman Sachs about my life and work post-Goldman, and one of the things that I mentioned was how the underlying strategies being employed to end female genital cutting in Senegal might be applied to Goldman’s diversity challenges. Needless to say there were more than a few questioning looks. But I was serious, and remain serious. One of my favorite, and deeply awarded organizations, is TOSTAN,because their theory of change (TOC) is one that could be applied to help solve almost any social problem, including, possibly, the diversity and inclusion challenges of the financial sector. Five years ago I traveled to Senegal with my then thirteen year old daughter Allie to spend time with Molly Melching, the founder of TOSTAN, and her then director of research Ben Cislaghi. As he described how they worked with hundreds of communities across many countries to end the harmful practice of FGC bells and whistles were going off for me. The process is too long to describe here, but the point is that it is a proven process for actually creating change and not just hoping for it.

To draw further from the social sector I would suggest employing the techniques of human-centered design to create the why, the what, and the how of the collective initiative. Take time in design. All too often interventions are created and implemented without ever consulting the people that they are designed to serve. When I think about the millions and millions and millions of dollars collectively spent on programs across the industry that are not working, not working at all, doesn’t this make huge sense? Finance people do claim to be the best and the brightest, and are certainly paid to be, so take that mentality to solving this problem.

Point is, innovate. Point is, collaborate. Point is, look for ideas and partners in places you have not looked before. Point is, try something new. Point is, be bold and just don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk. It’s time.

As I write this the sun is rising in Battery Park City, and as I look out my window towards the Statue of Liberty I am remembering all those mornings when I would get to the gym before dawn, work out, and then run along the park with Whitney Houston blaring out of my walkman before heading to 85 Broad Street, the former home of Goldman Sachs. I would often pause for a second and stare at the neoclassical structure, a symbol of independence that happened to be female, and wonder why so few women? Staring at her would help me get my game face on to approach another day in the trenches of the trading floor. Today, so much has changed in the landscape of lower New York City that I can barely recognize it. There are buildings, parks, schools, the new World Trade Center, and yet so little has changed as it relates to the make-up of who occupies the highest floors of these gorgeous new skyscrapers. Who the Wall Street power brokers are, as evidenced in 2008, can have a dramatic impact on all the rest of us. And they are pretty much the same as they were 20 years ago. I am called into reflection as to my legacy at Goldman, and I know it remains my steadfast commitment to advancing women’s leadership and inclusion. I did what I could, when I could, and although my role as a direct influencer in the sector has long since ended there remains something I can do, and that I just did, and that is to write. I feel very blessed to be etched into the 150 year history of the firm. Literally. Last night they showcased a piece that will contain the name of each of the 400+ past partners of Goldman that will be used in various ways this coming year. I’m easy to find. My last name begins with a Z.